Waste contractor gets $8 million in deal with North Slope Borough

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The North Slope Borough has agreed to pay $8 million to Colville Environmental Services in an out-of-court deal.

The borough had been accused of monopolistic and racially motivated practices in an 18-year-old dispute over oil field waste disposal.

Colville attorney Doug Pope said the settlement was payable over four years, with $3 million due next month. In return, Colville has agreed to dismiss lawsuits filed in 1982 and 1993.

The agreement contains no admissions of any wrongdoing. It was approved Thursday by the North Slope Borough Assembly.

Colville Inc. is owned by the Helmericks, believed to be the farthest north homestead family in Alaska, which settled in the Colville River delta in the 1950s.

''I'm satisfied with the outcome,'' said Jeff Helmerick, one of three sons who run the businesses begun by their father, Jim Helmerick, now 85.

''I'm happy that it's finally behind us,'' Helmerick told the Anchorage Daily News.

The borough started its own solid waste collection and disposal business in 1975.

In complaints filed as part of the lawsuit, Pope said the borough illegally froze Colville out of the waste disposal business although the company was properly licensed by the state to compete with the borough for contracts in an area west of the Kuparuk River.

To keep other contractors from bidding on services in the North Slope oil fields, the borough Assembly passed a Native preference bidding ordinance, Pope said.

The borough also included in its land-use permit a clause requiring use of the borough's solid waste service, Pope said. Nearly anyone who wanted to do business on the Slope had to get a land-use permit, he said.

After the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed Colville's right to operate on the North Slope in 1992, the borough began contracting its waste disposal without competitive bidding to subsidiaries of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Pope said.

The borough Assembly continued doing this although the corporation's subsidiaries charged more and provided poor service, court documents filed by Pope said.

Several members of the Assembly over the years also were Arctic Slope officials and, as such, received bonuses tied to the corporation's profitability, court filings said.

North Slope Borough offices were closed Tuesday, but a written statement by borough attorney Todd Sherwood called the $8 million agreement primarily a business decision.

''It was time to settle it in a way that would best limit any potential judgment against the borough if the matter went to jury trial in Anchorage where the case was pending,'' Sherwood said.

It also avoids years of potentially costly appeals after the trial, Sherwood said.

The borough ''vigorously disputed Colville's allegations and views this as a prudent means to settle a nearly 20-year-old dispute,'' said Anchorage attorney Phillip Blumstein, who also represented the borough.

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